A Short Post About Equality

Br. Otterson on Equality

My children regularly (at my direction) offer prayers and teach family home evening lessons. They are confident and articulate. They participate in Family Council, where they are encouraged to share their opinions, which are listened to and valued. We implement some of their suggestions. They are (with the occasional exception of one uppity teen) content with their place and their role in the family. One of my children even said the other day, “I would hate to have all the responsibilities parents have!”

Parts of the responsibility for maintaining our home and family life are (under my direction) delegated to the children. They are allowed to choose furnishings for their rooms and are responsible for the care and maintenance of those rooms. They often (with my permission and under my direction) grocery shop (with the money I magnanimously give them) and prepare meals all by themselves. In all of these responsibilities, of course, their decisions are subject to parental review.

My children have a unique place in the family–as children, they see the world in fresh and new ways, and have an eagerness and hopefulness that is a necessary component of family life. They are loved and deeply valued, even though they are young, and even because of their youth. Our family would not be what it is without them. A couple of weeks ago, one of their teachers said, “your children are incredible!” I couldn’t agree more.

Still, I wouldn’t say they’re my equals.


  1. Amen!

  2. I’m confused. Where in his post does he say children are your equal?

    In many ways my children are much better than I am.

  3. Katie B. says:

    This is good.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    Those uppity teens, always trying to be like a parent.

  5. Brilliantly put.

  6. …. but did you confer with some priesthood brethren to make sure your post was correct?

  7. Rebeckila says:

    I don’t think the original article said parents and children were equal in families, it said men, women, adults, and children have equal access to God. They may not have the same capacity to understand or think to ask the same questions, but are you saying your kids aren’t as able as you to receive revelation when they need it or feel the atonement in their lives in a way equal to what you can do? It sounds like you have a great family life and respect your children and they respect you (except perhaps the uppity one), I don’t know what the last sentence is supposed to mean.

    Maybe your post isn’t really a rebuttal of what was printed in the post, but since it’s cited at the beginning it seems that’s what you’re doing and you picked up something different from it than I did when I read it. Perhaps it just made you ponder equality in your family and you don’t think children are equal to parents which I think is generally accepted. Though people do go on about parents who treat their kids as friends instead of as their children so maybe that’s what you’re getting at. You’ve left me wanting more. :)

  8. Imagine just how uppity your teen would be if (s)he were destined to spend a lifetime in the role of child instead of a mere few more years of chafing against parental authority. The advantage of ageism over sexism is that eventually the roles are reversed and those with power over youth eventually become dependent on their children. Incentive enough not to abuse the privilege and burden of seniority.

  9. #2 & #7,

    Look closelier.

  10. Kristine,
    I’m really glad you take such good care of your children and the special role they have in the family. I hope to become like my children someday, because they are so much more Christ-like than I am. I think it’s important that children stay in the home as much as possible where they can be protected.

  11. Rebeckila says:

    #9 I don’t see what South Park has to do with Otterson’s article but I don’t have flash on my phone so maybe they were saying a relevant things. Somehow I doubt it though.

  12. #2 (Susan M.) & #7 (Rebeckila)

    Kristine is making a pointed statement about gender (in)equality in the Church by drawing direct parallels between the way children are incorporated into her family and the statements in Br. Otterson’s article about women’s role(s) in the Church.

  13. Folks this post is a parody. It isn’t about her kids.

  14. Rebeckila says:

    I think I’ll stand by my statement of equal access to God. I think people’s views of equality have changed over time. Does it mean that everything has to be the same? I can have an equal weight of two things but the volumes are very different. Are they not equal then?

  15. Children are just naturally more spiritual than adults.

  16. Rebeckila says:

    The narrator you are just being a jerk. EmiG and mmiles were able to nicely state their deeper interpretations without being insulting to people who were earnestly trying to enjoy a post.

  17. Rebeckila, that’s probably my fault. The post isn’t really very earnest–or rather, it’s earnest satire. It’s not meant to be read as a straight response to Otterson–that it could be probably means my satire wasn’t very good.

  18. Rebeckila says:

    Kristine, once it was pointed out to me I could easily see the parallels and think it’s very clever though I disagree with your position as far as church equality goes. I didn’t even read the original article until I saw Susan M asking about where kids being equal was mentioned so I wanted to find out.

  19. #17,

    Woah! I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. I was just pointing out that there was a hidden meaning in the post without spelling it out explicitly (and ruining some of the fun of discovery). The lines “Look closelier” and “look even closelier” are from a South Park parody of Da Vinci Code, where a scholar teaches the boys that the hidden meaning of Da Vinci’s Last Supper is that Peter was a rabbit, and that the boys just need to “look closelier” to see its true meaning. No need to be sore now.

  20. But Kristine, men, especially Mormon men, never treat women like children!

    They let – encourage – us to pray and speak in church and tell us we are equal partners presided over by our husbands. We have our own organizations and we can pretty much do whatever we want with those programs so long as we teach from the lessons they give us and follow their counsel and guidance and stay within the budgets they set for us. That’s *a lot* of leeway to do our own thing!

    They encourage us to speak up in council meetings so we can facilitate revelation, and always tell us how spiritual and special we are – obviously they recognize their weaknesses which are covered and made up for by their priesthood responsibilities (which are all work and dutiful drudgery and the only real reason they get off their couches to serve others).

    They wouldn’t be able to do their jobs without our support. The church wouldn’t be the same without the women!

    They teach us how to be leaders and encourage us to use those skills as we take care of those weaker than ourselves (you know, women and teenage girls and children).

    They respect, revere and honor us – that’s not treating us like children, that’s treating us like the honorable women they say we are.

  21. Love it, Kristine. Nicely done.

  22. Rebeckila,

    It’s understandable that you feel embarrassed after missing the satire. Kris’s point was that Otterson’s listed tokens of equality are not really tokens of equality.

    Satire of this sort has a storied history (such as Swift’s _Modest Proposal_). It’s deliberately conveyed with a straight face, and so the fact that it can be read straight is not a bug — it’s a feature!

    Kris’s post is limited in scope, and she doesn’t say here that there are no reasonable arguments that men and women are equal within the church. Rather, she merely points out that Otterson’s particular analysis is unconvincing.

  23. Brilliant, Kristine!

    Rebeckila (#15), you may be interested in this argument.

  24. In sacrament meeting a few years ago the High Council speaker mentioned “adults, women, and children.” Only a couple of us in the congregation noticed, from what I could see. After the meeting I asked several people what they thought of the phrase, and everyone had to think for a minute before they figured out there was a problem.

  25. Mommie Dearest says:

    I have a vague sense of how far we are from ever fixing gender inequality in the church. We can’t even talk about it openly, only in subtle ways, so subtle that some people don’t even get the point. There are times when –I– miss the point.

    If you talk about it openly and directly, you’re guaranteed to have a riot or backlash of some kind on your hands. It’s all tangled up with gender inequality in our secular society as well, and there is no way I know of to tease the two apart. Plus, in the Church, we have the added layer of priesthood governance which is both the vehicle for our salvation and the means by which gender inequality is most easily expressed and perpetuated.

    I rather marvel at women and men who continue to strive to rise above the comfort of the status quo, and point out things that we could improve to be more fair.

    This is my verbose way of saying Good Call, Kristine.

  26. Peter LLC says:

    that it could be probably means my satire wasn’t very good.

    Not true. I figured it out w/o even reading Br. Otterson’s post. :)

  27. Sometimes I think that the women of BCC must think in propositional logic symbols. The clarity of your arguments make me want to print them on notecards I can carry with me for the next time this defense inevitably comes up.

  28. Kristine,

    Men have the priesthood because they have bigger muscles. That and the extra three inches. Obviously God wanted them in charge. If God had wanted women in charge he would have given them testosterone, which is the presiding hormone.

    These women who think that all gonads are created equal. They think that millions of sperm do not overpower a single ovum?

  29. Can I put a disgruntled word in for those of us who feel that we have been relegated to the position of eternal children? I really want to grow up before I die. I don’t want to be a babe in the woods forever, relying on daddy to save me when I stub my toes. (And I don’t see why mom isn’t as much an adult as dad, while we’re on the subject. Can’t we all be real equals at some point? Do I have to be 5 forever?)

  30. In some ways, this isn’t so much about priesthood and individuals as it is about church organization and correlation, in which RS and other auxiliaries are no longer independent.

  31. Mark Brown says:

    I suspect, although I don’t know for sure, that Br. Otterson was trying to say that women and men have different roles and in the context of those roles, both women and men are treated fairly. And if that is the case, the metaphor of children in a family works really well, because you must treat a teenager differently than a kindergartener. But there is a difference between fair treatment and equal treatment, and the situation is so manifestly unfair that we don’t dare try to claim that it is, so we fall back on the equality argument. Look, we even “let” them pray in church, right along with the men!

  32. Dear Washington Post:

    Please stop printing Michael Otterson’s drivel. Spokesman or not, he doesn’t seem to speak on behalf of me or most of the members of my Church. In his posts, he comes across as an egomaniac, a bad writer, and an embarrassment to most of Mormonism’s best qualities.


  33. I actually think Otterson typically does a good job with his op-eds, even if he has dropped the ball with his last two.

  34. Stacey Valderama says:

    and i hope your children understand that their heavenly father loves and values them less than he loves and values you because you are the parents

  35. I second the “brilliant” comment.

  36. Kristine says:

    Yeah, Ben–I completely agree. I generally think Otterson is very good, especially given the constraints he works under. In this case, I think he happened to merely reproduce our cultural pathologies around gender, and it’s particularly disappointing since he so often rises above our other cultural tics.

  37. Kristine says:

    And, Ben S, I (mostly) agree with you also. This has almost nothing to do with individuals–the problems are all structural. Ultimately, though, those structural issues do have to do with priesthood, so we can’t escape those questions forever, though we can still go a loooooooong way before we have to tackle them.

  38. I can’t speak for the female perspective, not being a woman. But I can offer my own thoughts from a man’s perspective. I’m a man and I hold my wife as my equal and look forward to the morning of the resurrection, and I also acknowledge that my priesthood gives me a calling to magnify and a service to perform.

    To many, the well is already poisoned — they hold the notion that because I am a man, I simply cannot understand this matter — they use words like patriarchy and so forth. But I am a child of God — and I can understand, or try to understand. I might not be able to answer the deepest question of “why” but I can sustain my God and my Church in understanding why things are and doing my best within that understanding. I also understand that individual and cultural understandings change over time.

    Regarding Ephesians 5:23, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible comments,

    “The idea here seems to be, that as Christ gave himself to save his body, the church; as he practiced self-denial and made it an object of intense solicitude to preserve that church, so ought the husband to manifest a similar solicitude to make his wife happy, and to save her from want, affliction, and pain. He ought to regard himself as her natural protector; as bound to anticipate and provide for her needs; as under obligation to comfort her in trial, even as Christ does the church. What a beautiful illustration of the spirit which a husband should manifest is the care which Christ has shown for his ‘bride,’ the church!”

    I don’t accept Barnes’ commentary as doctrinally binding, but it is helpful to me to see how other thoughtful people interpret scripture.

    The Bible in Basic English (a modern translation) puts Proverbs 14:9 as “In the tents of those hating authority there is error, but in the house of the upright man there is grace.”

    May God bless the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Church’s priesthood, and all of its members.

    In this forum of thoughts and ideas, I hope there is place for mine.

  39. I liked the comments on this post. Anyone who has raised or is raising a large family can certainly understand that things must be delegated in such a manner. I know I have done similarly with my own and they seem to have turned out all right. I don’t see where there was any mention of priesthood authority allowing him the “right to do this”. He was simply talking as a father with religious background. Further more, where was he saying that this was his wife’s duty. I don’t get the comments referring that he is dominating a woman here. He is running his family just as a corporate office might run it’s business. It is a fact of life that things are discussed in meetings, everyone is allowed to make comments or suggestions, some are implemented some are not, there is seniority in any group environment, and ultimately the boss gets the final say. I think he is raising his family to be prepared to function in the real world. I, as a wife and mother do not feel that I am being dominated by my husband in any form. Raising a family is a joint effort by both husband and wife. Could it be that a lot of the attitudes and problems we have in society today is because one or the other tries or has to do it all when it comes to raising a family?

  40. Mark Brown says:

    “ultimately the boss gets the final say.”

    Yes, you have identified the problem precisely.

  41. Stephanie says:

    He is running his family just as a corporate office might run it’s business.

    This definitely aids the conversation. I know I always look forward to being reminded that my husband is the CEO of our family.

    But seriously, I think the Lord’s model for a husband and wife relationship transcends human institutions. I don’t think it is helpful to try to force it into something that we know and recognize, particularly something so fraught with inequities to begin with.

  42. “I think the Lord’s model for a husband and wife relationship transcends human institutions. I don’t think it is helpful to try to force it into something that we know and recognize, particularly something so fraught with inequities to begin with.”

    The trouble is, no matter what the transcendent model God may intend, it still works out through modes and frameworks that we, as humans, recognize and are able to achieve. As much as we’d like to practice some divine mimesis here, we still have to practice these principles in a down-to-earth manner. Call it the “after the manner of their language” corollary.

  43. Considering how well submissively following our CEOs has worked in the past (especially the recent past), I don’t see them as role models for the ideal father.

  44. Stephanie says:

    As much as we’d like to practice some divine mimesis here, we still have to practice these principles in a down-to-earth manner. Call it the “after the manner of their language” corollary.

    No we don’t. Language like that used in comment 39 was common in Ensign articles from the 70’s-80’s. So perhaps that was after the manner of the language they understood then. The language being used now over the pulpit (and in the Gospel Principles manual) is different, emphasizing equal partnership. Change happens line upon line as we work toward what God intends.

  45. Kristine says:

    Not that it matters much, but I wasn’t talking about equality between husbands and wives, which is an entirely different set of questions.

  46. Stephanie says:

    I know, Kristine, I just got distracted by comment 39. /Threadjack

  47. Somehow “separate but equal” became “different but equal” when it became politically incorrect to say outright that men were intended by God to rule over women and children (with righteousness, of course). They’re both lies.

  48. I love the irony of the Otterson post. “Women are equal let me tell you in their anonymous words that I am filtering as the head PR guy of the Church!” Followed by comments of active LDS women mostly saying “Uhh yeah we are equal in the eyes of God but not in terms of influence and authority in Church” followed by a shutting down of the comment thread by someone – presumably because it wasn’t correlated?

    I wonder what you get if you stated women “are inferior in their authority to act in God’s name” in a Mormon congregation? Now that Br. Otterson is an interesting thought experiment.

  49. Latter-day Guy says:

    Loved this, Kristine.

    Brother Orwell’s Otterson’s post is a timely reminder that men and women are equal in the Church, but some are more equal than others.

  50. mrsbrittdaniel says:

    Spot on Latter-day Guy with “Brother Orwell”!

  51. Bryan Kerr says:

    What a terrific parenting style. This is motivating

  52. Kristine you are simply brilliant. This is the single best post I have ever seen in terms of revealing the paternalistic attitude of the church towards women. Thank you!

  53. ji (#39),
    Yes, your thoughts are welcome here. Just welcome others’, too.

  54. One more thing: Enough with the Otterson bashing in the comments. If you don’t like his editorial, that’s fine–just keep the commentary on the editorial and far away from his person.

  55. #55, Fair enough, but only if we can engage in Otterpop bashing.

    Excellent work, Kristine!

  56. Otterpops are freak-nasty.

  57. This is brilliant.

    Also, Macha (48) nails it.

  58. Latter-day Guy, I love the Animal Farm reference. Perfect. Hits the nail right on the head.

    There’s a podcast responding to Otterson’s article. I think she’s worth a listen: http://daughtersofmormonism.blogspot.com/2011/04/episode-2-responding-to-michael.html

  59. What kind of bashing would be going on now if Otterson happened to be female, or if he had named the anonymous women that he cited as sources of the explanations that he expressed?

  60. Otterpops make the back of my throat itch.

  61. Latter-day Guy says:

    Otterpops are endurable if fully frozen; in liquid form they’ll give you chemical burns.

  62. Mommie Dearest says:

    I used to buy Otterpops by the case for the dh/kids, but I haven’t had one in years. Did they change the formula??

  63. Mommie Dearest,
    Why do you hate your kids and DH?

  64. Mommie Dearest says:

    Meh, we were culinary philistines while the kids were young. Our palates are more cultivated now.

  65. Naismith (#60) I don’t think the response would be all that different if the Otterson article had been written by a woman and actually acknowledge its sources. The anonymous sources is only one problem with the piece. It’s rife with other (arguably more significant) problems, too. Kristine’s satire wouldn’t change at all and most of the criticisms I made at the Exponent or Lynnette made at ZD would not change.

  66. Duane Reade says:

    What percentage of Men in the Church perceive that there is any issue or problem with the Unequal Status of Women in the Church, would you guess? (anyone)
    (I’m old enough to remember when we were having the same conversations about Blacks and the Priesthood. Think the women will ever be equal to the Blacks?)

  67. The Narrator may have not wanted to toot his own horn when he commented, but he also had a great parody post about the Osterson Op ed which many might enjoy on his blog.

  68. Duane Reade says:

    Narrator’s parody is indeed chilling. Which leads to the question:

    If the official spokesman can publish a position paper that is so clearly obfuscatory, if not downright untrue, on this issue, why should we trust him (and his church) to tell us the truth in other instances.

    His column on this issue is intended to promulgate the message that “Women in the Mormon Church are equal, even though they are clearly not.”

  69. Kristine says:

    That’s too cynical by half, Duane. Otterson is explaining the ways in which Mormons try to treat women well–and that is not a lie. The problem is that treating people well and valuing them and saying nice things about them does not require regarding them as equals, and certainly doesn’t equate to structural equality. I’d say his statement tries to sidestep the difficult issues, but that’s not the same as obfuscating.

  70. Duane Reade says:

    Thanks for your opinion, Kristine. I disagree, and I think 90% of the readers of his Washington Post column read Otterson as saying that women have a “separate but equal” position in the Mormon Church (and most know enough not to believe him).

    Mormon women *just don’t* have equal power with men (though its nice that black men now have equal power with white men: wonder when we will see the first Black Mormon Prophet? Gladys Knight?)

  71. Duane Reade says:

    The bible says that we should treat our slaves well and value them, and not beat them unless absolutely necessary.

  72. Kristine says:

    *Everyone* knows that “separate but equal” doesn’t work, even people who don’t read the Washington Post. I know it–that’s why I wrote this post. But given the church’s commitment to a particular sort of authority and its revelatory claims, of course they have to defend the status quo as best they can in a society that has (with notable exceptions) accepted many feminist ideas. I find the explanations that are usually offered entirely unsatisfying, but it’s really a stretch (and an obnoxious one) to suggest that Otterson is being insincere.

  73. Kristine says:

    And I beat you to the slaves analogy about a year ago and got trounced for it–speaking from experience, I’d suggest that you might not want to sprinkle that particular kind of kerosene on a potentially inflammatory topic. Unless you’re trying to start a flame war, in which case you’ll quickly find yourself banned from commenting.

  74. Duane Reade says:

    Kristine: is the “quickly banned from commenting” statement a threat of censorship? Surely sounds like it, or are you only, as a good friend, giving me a warning.

    If the Church, and Otterson, were being honest (telling the truth) they would say that “women are not able to hold positions of equal power with men in our church, and here is why.” Then people could accept or reject that. Instead, Otterson “PR’s” the issue, does not deal with the situation clearly and straightforwardly. Which is, of course, what we would expect any church to do. Or government.

    This history of how slavery was justified is directly relevent to the current unfolding history of women’s status in many churches, including the Mormon Church.

    Am I censored yet?

  75. Duane–you misunderstand. We agree about everything except for the silly accusation that Otterson is not telling the truth. He’s the head of the church’s PR department; that he does PR should not be held against him (or the church, frankly).

  76. Duane, it was a naked, unabashed threat of censorship. See what happens when you give women power?

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